On Ready Player One and The Problem with Passion

Hello humans! As you may know (but don’t worry if you don’t, I’m about to tell you) Sundays on this blog are days when I try to post something a little more than a book review. Sometimes that’s a silly post about how bookworms are basically Disney villains, sometimes it’s something even weirder. Today its sort of a cross between a book review and an essay. I recently read Ready Player One a book which, on the off chance that you haven’t heard of it, is a YA dystopian fiction novel which was recently made into a feature film in which there is a hunt within a large virtual world for a spectacular prize. I’ll let the Goodreads summary explain it far better than I ever could.

Ready Player One Ernest Cline

Goodreads Summary:

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Find Ready Player One on Goodreads

A disclaimer, because this gets a bit negative at times. If you like Ready Player One I think that’s wonderful, I’m glad you found a book that resonates with you. What follows are my personal opinions based on how I read the book and will obviously not be the same as someone else’s interpretation. I will also add that I am aware that this book was written for an audience younger than I am, and I have attempted to write this post without belittling the concerns and interests of younger readers (which is why I have chosen not to address the romance plot).

I debated writing a normal book review for Ready Player One but, honestly, I think everything that I could say in that context has already been said. I think the best thing I saw anyone say was on Twitter (now I forget who so I can’t credit them but if I see it again I’ll come back and tweak it), they said that Ready Player One is the same level of ‘trash’ as Twilight but because it is fiction marketed to young men and boys no-one will criticise it in the same way. Having now read the book, I can say this is true. This has that same feeling of ‘I’m being swept up in this story and I have to know how it ends but I’m also perfectly aware of how awful this is.’

I can’t be totally critical of the book, there were some things I liked, I thought that the virtual world was one of the more cohesive VR environments I had come across in YA of late, I thought that the mystery and the chase for the Easter Egg was well thought out and had some unique twists and turns, and I thought the way that the book ended (no spoilers) was uplifting and yet realistic.

And yet.

I’ll start with my most heartfelt complaint. There’s a massively transphobic sentence that adds nothing to the characterisation or plot and just sits there being transphobic and does not need to be there. I’m annoyed at it getting into a book, even one published in 2011 and since it serves no purpose and would be easy enough to lift out I’m even angrier that it’s still there in the edition I bought printed within the last year.

Now it gets a bit more complicated. My main issue with Ready Player One was with the main character Wade (or Parzival as is his chosen nickname on the OASIS). Because of the hunt for the Egg, Wade, and all others serious about finding the prize has become an expert in 80s pop culture, from TV shows to cars to clothes and more Wade knows pretty much everything. One might say he’s obsessed with it, one might say he’s passionate.

But here’s my problem. I love to talk with people who are passionate about one specific thing (or multiple things but the point still stands). I have one friend who I’m pretty sure knows everything there is to know about indie perfumes, many friends who are exceptional musicians who can tell you stories about obscure folk songs/instruments, even if you don’t know anyone with these sorts of passions we’ve all found ourselves hooked by a twitter thread of someone talking about ancient manuscripts they enjoy or something similar. However, I would argue that the reason we enjoy these people and the reason we find them interesting is not linked to the extent of their knowledge but because of the way they share it. Half the reason ‘nerd’ culture is so amazing is that its people sharing the things they find because they genuinely want others to know about them and to find them interesting.

With Ready Player One set up as a contest, with exclusive knowledge of 80s pop culture as the key to winning, it doesn’t encourage characters to share information except within trusted small groups which to me felt quite hostile. Knowledge becomes something to be hoarded and not shared for the fear of giving away a vital clue to the next piece of the puzzle. But that’s what makes Wade as a character so unlikeable. There is an arrogance to him and an assumption that those who don’t possess the knowledge he and his friends have makes them somehow worth less? Personally, it took me right back to every time I was told that I couldn’t join in with conversations about (this is just one example) video games because I wouldn’t understand – even though no-one was willing to teach me. So, when Wade gives reams of information about 80s pop culture (at times it goes over multiple pages in very small font) it doesn’t feel like you’re listening to someone passionately sharing something with you in the hopes that you will like it too, it feels like someone showing off how much knowledge they have and therefore somehow putting you down.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to think over this after having finished the book and I have considered whether this might be a deliberate choice, whether Wade was supposed to start the book with this attitude and end it having accepted that he can’t do things alone. But if that was there, it wasn’t brought into the foreground enough to make you feel as though anything had changed.

I feel like Ready Player One had the potential to be a wonderful book, exploring the prospects of VR technology, combining it with a huge sense of nostalgia and hammering home that our weird passions and our obsessions can be things that bring people together, that unite us.  Instead, you get a book that seems to suggest (at least at times) the opposite, and overall gives a sense of elitism. I will grant that there are some interesting ideas about the freedom of virtual worlds versus consumerism and the idea of how businesses can take advantage of the online world, these points are important but I simply couldn’t get past the gatekeeping (how fitting).

I have heard that the film changes a lot of things from the book, hopefully for the better, and I might watch it when it is available outside of cinemas, but there are more books to read and only so many hours in the day!

What say you? What did you think of Ready Player One? Let me know in the comments below!



6 thoughts on “On Ready Player One and The Problem with Passion

Add yours

  1. I enjoyed the book as a whole, although I did listen to the audiobook and I suspect if I’d read it in print I’d have skipped some of the lengthy passages of 80s references. I agree that Wade isn’t a likeable character but the world/concept won it back for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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